President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday criticized President Donald Trump's promised swift coronavirus vaccine rollout, saying it has fallen behind expectations, and warned it could take years before the bulk of Americans receive the necessary shots.
Biden, speaking in Wilmington, Delaware, said some 2 million people have been vaccinated, well short of the 20 million Republican Trump had promised by the end of the year.
At the current rate, "it's going to take years, not months, to vaccinate the American people," Biden said.
"As I long feared and warned, the effort to distribute and administer the vaccine is not progressing as it should," the Democrat added.
Biden's goal of ensuring that 100 million shots are administered by the end of his 100th day in office would mean "ramping up five to six times the current pace to 1 million shots a day," he added, noting that it would require Congress to approve additional funding.
Frequently Asked Questions
A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.
There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.
Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.
"Even with that improvement, even if we boost the speed of vaccinations to 1 million shots a day, it will still take months to have the majority of the United States' population vaccinated," he said.
Earlier in the day, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris received a COVID-19 vaccination live on television in a bid to boost confidence in the inoculation even while warning it will be months before it is available to all.
Senator Harris, who is Black and Asian-American, became the second high-profile person from an ethnic minority background to receive the vaccine after Surgeon General Jerome Adams on Dec. 18.
Biden, who takes office on Jan. 20, has said he will make the fight against the coronavirus, which has infected more than 19 million Americans and killed over 334,000, his top priority. He received his first injected dose of the vaccine live on television last week. Two doses are required for full protection.
The Biden team has put particular emphasis on the importance of encouraging vaccine distribution and inoculation in non-white groups especially hard hit by the coronavirus.
Harris received the Moderna Inc COVID-19 vaccine from a nurse wearing a mask and a face visor at a medical center in predominately black southeast Washington."I barely felt it," Harris said, laughing, after receiving the injection in her upper left arm.
"I want to encourage everyone to get the vaccine - it is relatively painless ... it is safe ... it's literally about saving lives. I trust the scientists."
Trump, who had COVID-19 in October, frequently has played down the severity of the pandemic and overseen a response many health experts say was disorganized, cavalier and sometimes ignored the science behind disease transmission.
Biden will inherit the logistical challenges of distributing the vaccine to hundreds of millions of Americans, as well as the task of persuading people who worry its development was rushed to take it.
Biden and his team have warned the vaccine will take time to roll out to the general population and urged people to listen to the advice of medical experts to avoid infection by the coronavirus.
Dr. Atul Gawande, a member of Biden's COVID-19 advisory board, told CBS News the transition team still did not have all the information it needed to understand the bottlenecks hampering vaccine distribution.
He warned that the Trump administration may have set unrealistic expectations that everyone who wanted to get vaccinated could do so by the end of June 2021.
"The realistic picture is to expect it could be fall before ... enough people are being vaccinated that we're getting back to normal and that it might be summer before the general public is really accessing the vaccine," he said.
Other Biden transition officials have echoed such caution.
Dr. Vivek Murthy, Biden's pick for surgeon general, told NBC News last week that while it was possible that people in lower-risk categories would get the vaccine in the late spring, it was more realistic to expect it would be midsummer or early fall before it reached the general population.
The United States has so far authorized two COVID-19 vaccines: one developed by Pfizer Inc and German partner BioNTech SE and the other by Moderna. Others are being evaluated.Separately on Tuesday, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put off a vote on Trump's call to boost COVID-19 relief checks for Americans to $2,000, in a rare challenge to his fellow Republican. Biden has said he favors the increase from an already approved $600.